From flashy to enlightening

Times Staff Writer

If you were at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre on Friday, you saw young America -- onstage and in the audience -- in the process of becoming a dance culture. No, not a conventional ballet, folkloric or modern dance culture, not yet anyway, but one intently invested in watching street dance develop as a theater art.

Besides showcasing the local hip-hop community in all its multifaceted athleticism, "Breaking the Cypher" had several important agendas to explore. Produced by the youth organization JUICE, this plotless two-act cavalcade wanted to summarize hip-hop history for a young audience fixated on flashy moves. It also wanted to reclaim hip-hop from an entertainment industry fixated on commercial exploitation. It accomplished both those aims by expanding the idiom's creative horizons.

Unfortunately, sequences choreographed by Peipei "Peppa" Yuan and Giovanni "Barafuco" Avelar misfired because of clumsy staging and uneven execution, in one case attempting to reinvent the Lindy Hop, in another to make sex war the subject of a showpiece. Yes, the fighters reconciled, if only because nonviolence is a prime JUICE tenet, but only the combat had real conviction.

More powerful and original dances came from "Cypher" artistic directors Amy "Catfox" Campion and Jacob "Kujo" Lyons. Individually, Campion liked her breaking as raw as possible, while Lyons as dancer and choreographer kept discovering unexpected possibilities for control. Together, they delivered exciting ensembles with plenty of room for solo bravura.

In the program's most distinctive achievements, Campion's "Lost in Musical Sensation" traced the transition between self-doubt and self-empowerment, and Lyons' "Beached" attempted to cool and slow hip-hop virtuosity to something like lyricism. Sara "Ms. Mighty" Fenton also provided a sunny women's quintet.

Films by Alexander "Journey" Mercado introduced new environments for breaking that Campion and Lyons inventively developed onstage, while Marcos Martinez's projected graffiti art became backdrops for the numbers.

Among the nondancing guests and other contributors, poet Mark Gonzales served as the conscience of the event, and DJ Orator and Toquon as its rhythmic force field. Resplendent in seaweed wigs, Kristina Driskill and Laura Parker supplied the improvisational operatic vocalise for "Beached."


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